Listen The story of a championship-winning shot
Mar 23, 2007
Listen Listen to the final moments of the game as broadcast on KEYL
Mar 23, 2007
Fans packed the arena on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1972. St. James and Melrose played for the Class A championship, the small school division.
This is what it sounded like on radio, as broadcast on station KEYL, Long Prairie.
"First foul of the ballgame goes on Randy Douvier. Going to the free-throw line will be Jeff Nessler," said the announcer.
Jeff Nessler was one of the leaders of the St. James team. A six-foot senior, he was having an outstanding state tournament.
"Nessler had 31 points for the Saints against Red Wing," said the radio announcer.
St. James was undefeated. Thinking back, Jeff Nessler says even though the team had a perfect record, it was not the tournament favorite. He says other teams were rated higher, mainly because it was believed they had played tougher schedules.
"So each game that we won we kind of looked at it like it was another real plus for us," says Nessler. "Going into the finals we didn't have a whole lot to lose -- let's go in and see what we can do and give it our best shot."
St. James' opponent that Saturday was in the middle of a great five-year run. Melrose won the Class A title the year before and more championships were in its future. Melrose had already beaten one undefeated team in the 1972 state tournament, and aimed to make St. James the second.
"Neil Thelen at the free throw line for Melrose," said the announcer. "Thelen has 11 points."
Neil Thelen says at the time, Melrose had the tallest starting lineup ever seen in a state tournament game. Among the team's players was a future professional, Mark Olberding. Olberding played 12 years in the pros, mostly with the San Antonio Spurs. Thelen remembers St. James held the lead most of the way, until late in the fourth quarter.
"We had come back to tie and even take the lead on St. James," says Thelen. "With 12 seconds left to go in the game, the score was tied. We had the ball out of bounds underneath their basket and they had a full court press on us."
A Melrose pass went astray. The ball ended up in Jeff Nessler's hands at midcourt. Nessler says he did a quick calculation.
"Kind of had a little bit of presence of mind to say, 'OK, how much time do we have?' I looked up and saw that we had a few seconds left," says Nessler. "So I took a couple more dribbles and figured, well, I can get these in and then take a shot."
Nessler says he was 40 to 45 feet from the basket when he let the ball go -- and it swished in.
The screaming crowd nearly drowned out the announcer as he called the last few seconds of the game.
"St. James has it, four seconds," said the announcer. "Nessler with two seconds. He fires it up, it's good! He wins it! Unbelieveable! From midcourt! Nessler is mobbed. He fired it from midcourt with one second and it went in!"
The Long Prairie radio station broadcast the Melrose games that year, and the announcers were clearly pulling for that team. When asked to comment on Nessler's game-winning shot, one announcer responds "I don't have anything to say right now."
St. James had one more game after defeating Melrose. They played the Class AA winner, Mounds View. Mounds View also had a future professional on the team, Mark Landsberger. St. James beat the big school champ by 8 points.
Jeff Nessler says he still likes to attend state tournament games. In fact, he was there when Blake Hoffarber, of Hopkins High School, made his shot two years ago. Nessler says the shot was unbelievable.
He says in some ways it was bigger than his shot since it tied the game and kept Hopkins alive. Nessler says had he missed against Melrose, St. James still had overtime to try and win the game. Thanks to his long range accuracy, that eventuality went untested.